Indie Game of the Week 276: HoloCure: Save the Fans!

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Mento

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Edited By Mento  Moderator
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Well, I had a few ideas for this week's Indie Game of the Week that fell through due to seriously needing to upgrade my old PC of mine - Tales of the Neon Sea seemed like a pretty neat adventure game from what little I could play of it, if that helps anyone - so instead entry 276 is going to cover a free fangame about anime Vtubers. My, how far we've fallen.

HoloCure is based on the Hololive menagerie of "virtual idol" talents that have been carving out a significant niche of the Vtuber fanbase across YouTube, starting in 2017 as a strictly Japan-based affair but has since expanded with successive "generations" of new talents that eventually included the eleven members of "HoloEN" - those recruited from Anglophone countries, primarily Australia, Canada, and the United States. As the maker of this fan game is presumably also from one of those countries, right now it focuses on those eleven Hololive Vtubers with explicit plans of expanding to include the many Japanese and Indonesian streamers and producers operating under the Hololive brand. Honestly, HoloCure probably goes beyond the quality level expected for most fan projects but then to say the fanbase for Hololive is rabid is an understatement - I struggle to retain any real objectivity here, though, as I myself fell into its "rabbit hole" some years ago when clips of Inugami Korone, Kiryu Coco, and Sakura Miko began circulating around my usual haunts. The paper-thin story of HoloCure right now is that the fans have become a little too rowdy of late and need some knocking around to return them to their senses: every enemy type is a representation of one of the starring Vtuber's fanbases (for example, the fans of Calliope Mori, a reaper, are the skeletal "Deadbeats").

A typically manageable encounter with a thousand or so of the internet's most fervent fans.
A typically manageable encounter with a thousand or so of the internet's most fervent fans.

You don't need to play much of HoloCure or see it in action to ascertain its chief inspiration. Vampire Survivors, which appeared out of nowhere around the end of 2021 and upset a lot of Game of the Year deliberations, became a profoundly popular 2D action game that is structurally similar to Smash TV and its overhead shoot-'em-up mechanics but for the fact that the playable character automatically attacks at set intervals. The player's role, then, is to maneuver the playable character around and through waves of enemy hordes and occasionally fire off screen-clearing "super"s at their discretion. The simplicity of the format quickly engendered it many fans who soon discovered an unexpected degree of complexity when it came to how they customized their character: upon reaching a new level, the player can select between one of several power-ups that might include passive stat boosts, passive skills, one-off healing consumables if they happened to be in a pinch, and new sub-weapons which also have their own auto-fire intervals and work in tandem with the weapons already present. The last of those in particular make for quite the conundrum when levelling up, as players worked towards an arsenal that either synergized together for a stronger focussed front, covered deficiencies such as targeting enemies attacking from the flank or creating areas of denial to make it harder for enemies to swarm them, or were uniquely enhanced by that specific character's skillset and strengths. With multiple player characters each with their own intended playstyle and complimentary skills, what would otherwise be a repetitive session-based game took on many layers of nuance, which only continues to expand as the developer further supports the game with additional content: new characters, new weapons, new skills, new enemies, new maps, and so on, with each variable adding no end of replay value.

It only took a few playthroughs of HoloCure for me to "get" the whole appeal of Vampire Survivors, even if I've yet to partake of its sanguine banquet myself and its no doubt deeper waters. Not only does eliminating the player's need to manually shoot at enemies change very little about the soul of an action game like this - most danmaku have auto-fire features too, as evading enemy bullets and choosing when to drop the life-saving bombs are of bigger importance than holding down a trigger button - but playing with the many different builds and power-ups creates a sufficiently distinct experience each time, and one where you're constantly expanding and tweaking your own understanding of the game's meta. As with many fighter games and MOBAs, the internet was quick to start sorting the HoloCure versions of HoloEN members into tiers based on their combat proficiency, though their differences alone are reason enough to try each of them out in turn. One slight obstacle to this experimentation process is the game's gacha aspect - the game has the five original HoloEN members unlocked as defaults, and the newer six need to be obtained via this pernicious lottery using in-game currency. However, dupes simply power up the related character by increasing all their stats from the outset, making them more viable to use if you struggled with them before; a compromise that alleviates some of the annoyance if you're struggling to complete the set. Leftover funds can be put towards permanent stat boosts which, much like the hub bonuses in the Rogue Legacy games, can allow for if not guarantee more successful subsequent runs. The most pressing one of those upgrades is unlocking the slow-to-recharge special attack, which can really save your bacon if you're in dire straits. As an added boon, all of these upgrades are refundable if you ever wanted to redistribute the cash or put it towards more gacha draws.

The whole game hinges on these decisions between skills that will help in the long-run or additional sub-weapons (don't google BL if you don't know it) to increase DPS. A buff that increases weapon damage by 15% will be far more useful once you're wielding multiple weapons it can apply to.
The whole game hinges on these decisions between skills that will help in the long-run or additional sub-weapons (don't google BL if you don't know it) to increase DPS. A buff that increases weapon damage by 15% will be far more useful once you're wielding multiple weapons it can apply to.

Speaking of metas and characters, here's a few notes I've made about the eleven characters after trying them all out:

(I've spoiler-blocked this section because it gets a bit lengthy and some of the appeal of this game is discovering how these characters work for yourself. For the sake of beginners, I'll say Ina, Amelia, and Gura are good starting picks from those initially available, and Bae, Sana, and Fauna are also exceptional if you can unlock them. Mumei, meanwhile, is just straight up broken right now: use her if you really can't earn a win, but perhaps try to resist the temptation otherwise.)

  • Amelia Watson: The Gremlin Detective is the first billed and I think that's deliberate, as she's one of the easiest characters to play as if not necessarily the easiest to win with as most of her skills are passive buffs that increases the efficiency of every sub-weapon. She's one of the two characters to have a very useful companion - her dog, Bubba, whom helpfully sweeps up experience drops in addition to being a powerful attacker - and she has the highest starting stats too.
  • Gawr Gura: Officially the most followed Vtuber in the world, the little shark gal with an attitude is another solid choice for beginners due to her area denial: one of her skills creates whirlpools that drag enemies in and creates escape windows to slip past. Her special greatly buffs her DPS for a while, making her a good choice if you're having trouble with bosses.
  • Ninomae Ina'nis: The cosy, laid-back eldritch priestess is one without a lot of initial flash, as she has the weakest starting stats and a tentacle attack with an unusually-shaped hitbox that can be tough to use effectively. However, her three skills combine very well and are best upgraded to max quickly. You get the best results pulling a huge crowd of mostly non-hostile enemies and raking in some enormous damage boosts.
  • Takanashi Kiara: The hyperactive phoenix can be a powerhouse but is also a little too hot to handle in general, in part because her main weapon creates a wide arc but won't hit anything too close. Kiara teaches you the best way to play games like this, as she has a buff that activates and grows stronger as long as you keep moving (which you'll want to do to collect XP drops and other collectibles) and a buff that creates fire wherever she goes that also slows pursuers down at higher levels. Since most of her skills are defensive in nature, though, it's hard to keep her DPS up.
  • Mori Calliope: The Grim Rapper herself, Calliope's another of what I would call an expert character like Kiara. Her scythe swing is similarly a little awkward, as while it projects across a decently long arc it doesn't originate near to her and so it's effectively useless on enemies that are inches away. However, Calli has some interesting skills that are deadly at higher levels: one has a chance of instantly killing any non-boss, and can heal Calli at its highest level, while another keeps her buffed as long as she keeps killing, which won't be hard with all those insta-kill procs. Takes a while to get her to a formidable state, but she'll shine with the hardier waves towards the end.
  • IRyS: IRyS is a tough character to use because, like Calli, she needs a bit of a run up first. Her two big skill buffs are complementary: the boosts from one make it more likely to proc the other, and vice versa. That means upgrading both to max without getting overwhelmed first, though, and despite being durable with her healing skills it's not going to mean much if you can't keep those damage numbers up (which you probably won't if you focus on upgrading passives every level). As Diablo 3 taught us though, never count out a Nephilim in an action-RPG - I've heard she's practically unkillable once she has all her skills maxed.
  • Hakos Baelz: The Chaos Rat has some funny gambling-based skills starting with her dice attack, which does more damage the higher the number rolled. However, her crits are absolutely lethal thanks to a permanent boost to crit chance from one skill and another that lets her stack crits for up to 400% damage. Her special's also one of the best: it simply removes the cooldowns on her attacks, absolutely flooding the area with projectiles and ensuring nothing will live through it.
  • Ouro Kronii: As the sardonic and self-centered Time Warden (and my personal favorite HoloEN member), Kronii's powers are unsurprisingly time-based. Her main weapon creates clock hands, and the player only controls the direction of one of them: the other changes depending on the game timer. Kronii's another expert-level character ideal for those more familiar with the game, as her strongest skill is a huge buff that only applies when she's at full health. That means taking advantage of defensive power-ups to ensure she never gets hurt, while at the same time not neglecting damage output. She gets the most speed boosts out of any Holomem too, keeping her one step ahead of the horde.
  • Ceres Fauna: The nature goddess with the softest voice in all of Hololive has skills related to healing herself quickly, which makes her extremely durable on the tougher waves. This is offset with a general lack of attack power, though her odd leaf projectiles get a lot of coverage and can be upgraded to cut through enemies without stopping (and eventually home in on them, removing the difficulty of trying to hit anything with their unintuitive circular motions). She also has a powerful vine attack that only activates when she heals herself, which should be often enough with her other skills.
  • Nanashi Mumei: The scatter-brained custodian of all civilization, Mumei has a couple of seriously strong buffs to help her out, one of which continues to get stronger as you defeat enemies. While her full screen clearing special does sometimes have the unfortunate side-effect of eliminating all the XP drops too, there's no other special in the game as useful for those times when you're completely surrounded. Not that she needs the extra boost, but she also has a companion like Amelia that can collect XP and cause some damage of its own.
  • Tsukumo Sana: A cosmic deity as sunny as any star, Sana can be one of the more powerful characters in the game. Everything about her is beeg: her special, her buffs, her effective attack range, and eventually her damage output. All her skill buffs come with a bonus that means any area-of-attack boosts also applies that bonus to pure damage, which relates to a few of the defensive power-ups you can acquire. Eventually, almost all her attacks gain a knock-back effect, making even more invincible. If you still get in trouble, though, her special also grants invulnerability as another "get out of jail free" card. A character easily recommended for beginners.
Sheer pandemonium. Bae wouldn't want it any other way.
Sheer pandemonium. Bae wouldn't want it any other way.

Owing to HoloCure's status as a fangame made in the developer's free time - they're also a proficient animator, and has animated at least one music video for Hololive talents Gawr Gura and Mori Calliope and their original song collaboration "Q" - there's only a smattering of content thus far, but since it shares the same structure as Vampire Survivors so too does it have the same modular capacity for growth, should the developer find the time to improve it further. It feels like half of Hololive's nearly 70 members have already streamed themselves playing the game, marvelling at the many in-jokes and references and wondering what sort of abilities their own digital avatars would bring to the fray. Of course, as a fangame that uses licensed characters, it's currently being provided for free on the developer's Itch.io; however, I'm sure if it continues to gain in popularity those running the Hololive business should see the sense of working towards some sort of official release in due time. Either way, even for as slight as it is right now in terms of content, it has many of the same hooks as Vampire Survivors at a price you really can't beat. If nothing else, you could give HoloCure a whirl just to see what all the fuss is about with this burgeoning sub-genre of auto-shooters before the marketplace is completely flooded with clones.

(NB: Version played was v0.3.16. I imagine it'll change a lot over the coming months.)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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ArbitraryWater

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#1 ArbitraryWater  Online

Glad to know Mento and I have the same oshii. That’s the most important thing, I think.

Also for a free fan game this thing is actually kind of amazing. Looking forward to seeing it get updated, because I think it does have a chance at being as good as, if not better than, VS with enough time

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#2  Edited By MindBullet

HoloCure has really taken off. I would say I'm surprised, but it's not really a shock why. A solid and stunningly pretty clone of the incredibly popular Vampire Survivors, using incredibly popular and recognizable streamers complete with community in-jokes, andit'sfree?

I'll be honest that I'm still in the camp that doesn't fully "get" the hype around the Vampire Survivors stuff. The big thing about it seems to be that it's cheap, so HoloCure coming around and beating 'cheap' by being 'free' seems kind of...

I dunno, I hope Kay Yu is getting something worthwhile out of it considering the game's massive success and the expectations that brings, I guess.

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Mento

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#3 Mento  Moderator

@arbitrarywater: Total Kronie here, for sure. Here's hoping the ghost of Cortana can leave her be.

@mindbullet: Yeah, the standard price of VS isn't really breaking the bank. The reason I was happy to give the format a free trial run, as it were, was that I was extremely skeptical I could run a VS-type game with my current hardware given how taxing having all those sprites on-screen can be for even a moderately-powerful system. For what it's worth, HoloCure is optimized surprisingly well: when there's a lot on screen, it just slows down rather than skip or freeze up or crash. If anything, it's probably made the game a lot easier than it's meant to be.

I am wondering if putting in all this gratis work is worth it to Kay Yu, who as an animation freelancer must already have a dozen other projects and commissions on the docket that are actually paying the bills, but given how much the Hololive members themselves are into it that has to be pretty gratifying for a fan.

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#4  Edited By cikame

Yep, huge Hololive fan here and this game is great, i loved Vampire Survivors too and i think it's a little better in some ways, i haven't kept up with the updates but its duller colour palette makes it easier to see what's going on (HoloCure is very bright) and weapon/item combinations end up being a tiny bit more satisfying, but playing as and unlocking my favourite vtubers is far more rewarding, and the unique character attacks and skills add more variety, all it needs is some more maps, the composer is excited to make more remixes of Hololive songs which will be great and on top of adding new characters... the future of the game is very exciting.

I do wonder if the company are at all considering publishing the game, as far as i'm aware everything in it is owned by them, no cover songs or anything from outside the company yet, there are a few items that reference past members they might want to remove but that's about it. People don't respond well when you take something away from them that was free, so i think they should leave this early version up for free as a demo and continue development on a retail version, but then i suppose that opens up controversy about copying VS which isn't a problem at the moment since it's a fan game.

Happy to see more Hololive conversation here :P, i've brought it up a couple times but never really got a reaction, i'm a sapling and a merakyat, can't wait to see ID members added, i assume Risu is going to lob nuts at everything.

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Also i think CookieSwirl is the most subbed vtuber, if she counts.

Edit: I just learned about Dragon Fire, i'm more of an aoe guy but holy moly.

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For me honestly, I like the dynamic between all these fangames by Indie Devs, and the Vtubers community welcoming these fangames they make, as it opens up more interaction with the community, fans, devs, artists, and Vtubers alike.

hopefully fangames like these do not get mixed up in IP issues like the infamous flappy bird dev case. 😅